“Well,” I said, gazing out from the patio of the little restaurant on the hillside. “It’s not quite what I expected…”
Sure, what passed for the sky was a roiling mass of sooty grey clouds shot through with red lightning, the sand on the beach smelled faintly of brimstone, and the ocean appeared to be boiling, out near the horizon.
But otherwise, it looked a lot like San Clemente. Which, if you grew up in the Nixon era, wasn’t particularly comforting…
My lunch companion laughed heartily, around a mouthful of incredibly succulent lobster. His voice was like music.
“I’m sure it isn’t!” Lucifer, Prince of Darkness, dabbed at his incredibly beautiful lips and sat back, leveling those piercing, heart-breakingly blue eyes at me.
I tried not to swoon like a groupie, and took a sip of something he called damnbrosia, an amber liquid that seemed to be swirled with blood, yet tasted of satisfaction, contentment and ease. I smacked my lips and sighed.
“So what gives?” I said, gesturing at the little town, wrapped around the little bay, one of an infinite number of resort-like enclaves that, I gathered, made up the Realm known as Hell. “Where’s the molten lava? the pitchforks? the endless torture?”
Satan flashed that gorgeous smile. “We have several volcanic experiences! You can get right down and swim in the lava if you want! You can’t be harmed – you’re dead!”
“You know that’s not what I meant.”
Lucifer held up a hand in concession, and nodded.
“Yes, I know. But do you have any idea how many times I’ve had this conversation? I have to try to interject a little humor or I’ll go nuts.”
He folded his napkin, pushed back from the table and shifted his chair so he was looking more at the ocean than at me. I mirrored him, and we sat for a few moments, for all the world like old friends enjoying the view after a cozy lunch.
He passed a very fine, very expensive cigar to me, already clipped and lit, and drew on his with gusto.
“You’re probably not going to believe this…” he began.
“Try me,” I said.
He glanced at me and shrugged, settled even more deeply into his chair.
“Most of what you think you know about Hell is pure propaganda. History is written by the victor. That’s as true in the Supernal Realm as it is in the mortal world.
“I had a big beef with Father when he decided to create humankind; in most of the versions of the story, it’s said I refused to bow to Man as Father wanted all the angels to do. That’s pure horseshit. I rebelled because he told me what he had in store for you lot, and I didn’t want any part of it.”
“What do you mean?”
Lucifer waved his hand vaguely. “You know, the whole salvation thing. Heaven, Hell, Judgement Day. He wanted me to run Hell, the place of eternal torment, and I told him to shove the assignment where the Divine Light don’t shine. Only not in so many words.”
“I can see how that might piss God off,” I allowed. “But if you didn’t take the job, how did you wind up here anyway?”
He grinned wickedly, and for a moment his face was a little demonic.
“He says, ‘Fine! I’ll get Mikael to run it – he’s a vicious little bastard just like you! In fact, he’s there now, overseeing the installation of the furnaces.’ And that’s when the plan came to me. I feigned fear at his wrath and departed. I gathered those angels loyal to me, and we stormed Hell.”
He nodded proudly. “As God is my witness! We forced our way through the Gates of Hell, and we sent the garrison of angels packing back to Heaven. Then I threw Mikael’s little punk ass back up into the clouds, and we slammed the Gates and locked ‘em. The Great Battle was never in and for Heaven, it was in and for Hell.”
“No shit! So Mikael didn’t cast you from the battlements of Heaven into the Pit of Hell?”
Lucifer looked indignant. “That little bitch? Seriously?”
We laughed together.
“But I still don’t understand. Why take over Hell if you didn’t agree with its purpose?”
He winked one infernal eye. “To subvert that purpose, of course. For reasons even I don’t understand, God can’t seem to create any more realms. And it seems that, once created, he can’t in fact destroy them as easily as he has led some to believe. Or we wouldn’t be here, and Mikael would be running a rather less pleasant Hell.
“So, for the time being at least, I hold sway in Hell, and I run it as I see fit. I have no intention, while I exist, of doing the Old Man’s dirty work, and I find it fitting that his intended pit of eternal torment has become a nicer place than Heaven!”
“Nicer than Heaven?”
“Sure. Can you imagine how uptight and paranoid Heaven is right now? Fuck me!”
“Good point.” I reflected for a moment, and then asked, “What about the whole possession and exorcism scene?”
Lucifer hung his head sadly, and took a deep breath. He let it out slowly, and looked at me with tears in his eyes.
“What is an angel but a demon from the right side of the tracks?”
I frowned, and pondered that for a moment. A sick, cold feeling bloomed in my stomach.
“You don’t mean…?”
Lucifer nodded. “Yep. He has to use angels, because we won’t have anything to do with it. In a way, Mikael is running Hell – Hell on Earth!” Lucifer spat, and his spittle sizzled as it arced through the air. “Just to test your faith.”
“That’s so fucked up!”
“No shit! His stormtroopers have spent centuries doing what we wouldn’t, and we’ve gotten all the blame. It’s nearly impossible now to convince people of the truth. I did pretty well with the heathens and pagans, but since the Church took hold, I’ve been cast as such a liar that no one in their right mind is going to believe me when I tell them Hell is a paradise, and frankly, I can’t blame them.” I thought for a moment he was going to sniffle, or wipe a tear from his cheek. But he just sighed again, and shrugged.
“My people can be so fucked up sometimes.” He looked hurt and bitter for a long moment, but then his face brightened.
“I can’t do much about the conditions up there,” he said, with determination. ”But I can make sure that those who are turned away at the Gates of Heaven find a, shall we say, warm reception here!” He winked again, all angst gone now from those sapphire eyes.
We laughed again. I extended my glass, and we clinked and drained our flutes, throwing the empty crystal toward the sea. The flutes soared out over the ocean like seagulls, and burst in huge, firework blossoms of multicolored sparks.
“What now?” I asked, a strange, wild excitement growing where the cold bloom had hung before, crackling like the infernal skyrockets burning over the boiling sea.
“Anything you can imagine. Literally. Don’t worry – we have a whole cohort of demons dedicated to making every day in Eternity fresh, exciting and fulfilling. And, all kidding aside, I do recommend the lava swim. Hot tubs? Please!”
“I don’t know,” I said. ”Actually swimming in molten lava…?”
The Lightbringer spread his hands in a Rodney Dangerfield gesture.
“C’mon! Have I ever led you astray?”